Joining Forces to Fight Pollution

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 15 percent of the waste generated by healthcare activities is considered hazardous material that may have a negative impact if not properly disposed of after use. In order to act responsibly with regard to the environment, Fresenius Kabi has started to establish an innovative waste management concept in the spirit of the company’s mission of caring for life – involving stakeholders across the product life cycle.

“We are acting today with tomorrow in mind” – with this motto on the agenda, the team of Fresenius Kabi South Africa took an in-depth look at the challenges presented by pharmaceutical waste in hospitals and how they could add value for healthcare professionals and patients. Within the scope of a pilot project, they succeeded in getting the healthcare staff at two hospitals on board – a crucial milestone, since waste reduction can only be achieved through collaboration.

Supporting waste collection right at the source

As a starting point, Fresenius Kabi began to look at the life cycle of its Freeflex IV infusion container that is used for intravenously administered drugs. Millions of these containers are used in South African hospitals each year in patient care and need to be disposed of responsibly. To treat the waste according to the latest environmental standards, it has to be separated from other hospital waste and reclaimed properly.

In order to ensure this proper collection, Fresenius Kabi South Africa provided its pilot project hospitals with dedicated Freeflex bins: with the right infrastructure in place to separate and collect the infusion containers, it was easier for the healthcare staff to take care of these tasks during their demanding work and care for patients. The bins were a huge success. Since the project's launch in 2018, 177 tons of Freeflex waste have been collected. Having started with 2 hospitals in the initial pilot project, currently 46 hospitals are participating.

Competition boosts motivation to use waste receptacles

To further raise awareness for waste management and to emphasize the importance of the project, more than 1,100 members of the healthcare staff in the two participating hospitals were trained by Fresenius Kabi. They also had the opportunity to participate in a competition between the hospital wards – an additional compliance incentive to discard Freeflex waste in the dedicated waste receptacles. With the training and the competition, Fresenius Kabi managed to keep the motivation among the healthcare staff high – further contributing to the success of the project. Full circle – generating sustainable energy from hospital waste.

The Freeflex containers are collected and then transported to a local waste management company. With its specialized waste converter, the “e-Converter,” the company uses state-of-the-art technology to manage pharmaceutical waste while complying with South African healthcare regulations. This represents a greener option for waste management including sterilization, dehydration, and compressing of pharmaceutical waste. Based on this future-leading solution, Fresenius Kabi is able to halve the weight of its infusion container waste and reduce its volume by up to 80 percent.

The e-Converter process transforms waste into energy

The e-Converter sterilizes, shreds, and dehydrates the material to reduce its weight and volume. When implementing the next phases of the process, the waste is compressed into tight pellets, which can be incinerated and used to generate energy. Testing is ongoing to ensure that the incineration process does not release any toxic emissions and that all aspects of the project comply with environmental legislation. Currently, waste is still disposed to landfills, however, due to the unique e-Converter process, the waste to landfill has been reduced by 80% in volume. The aim is to divert this waste from landfill to a refuse derived fuel by the beginning of 2023.

Solving two problems at once

The pilot project of Fresenius Kabi in South Africa shows how hospital waste can be disposed of in a smart, compliant way and, at the same time, serve as an energy source. Thanks to the great success of the project, Fresenius Kabi is currently in discussion with the authorities as well as other hospitals and stakeholders to roll out this waste management concept across the South African private healthcare sector. Until the end of 2022 additional 45 hospitals are planned to join the project – a positive outlook into the future.

e-Converter process After completing step 1 of the modern e-Converter solution as illustrated, Fresenius Kabi will be able to halve the weight of its infusion container waste and reduce its volume by up to 80 percent. Steps 2 and 3 will result in zero waste to landfill.